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Illegal Interview Questions Can Violate Discrimination Laws

December 7th, 2013

Employees and job applicants are protected from discrimination based on gender, age, religion, race, national origin, and marital status under state and federal employment laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 make it illegal for an employer to deny employment or an interview for any of these reasons. Employment decisions based on questions relating to age, marital status, arrest records, military experience, gender or sexual orientation, religious affiliation, pregnancy, financial information, or social habits unrelated to the qualifications necessary to perform a job are illegal interview questions.

Employers are forbidden to ask questions about aspects of an applicant’s life that have no bearing on the candidate’s experience or ability to perform the position’s duties. Questions employers cannot ask, with examples, include:

  • Age: Your current age, unless the position has age-related legal requirements or questions that may reveal it, such as the year you were born or graduated high school or when you plan to retire.
  • Criminal history: Questions regarding convictions are legal; however, asking if you have ever been arrested is not.
  • Disability: Whether you have a disabling condition, require time off for medical treatments, have several sick days you took at your previous job, or have ever filed a Workers’ Compensation claim.
  • Gender or sexual orientation: Your sexual orientation, sexual identity, or gender, and other questions related to LGBTQ+ status.
  • Marital or family status: If you are married, living arrangements, or future marriage plans, and whether you have children, their ages, your childcare arrangements, or if you are, or plan to become, pregnant. 
  • Military service: If you served in the military, what type of discharge you received, why you left the military, or how you received a visible scar or disability.
  • Race or ethnicity: Your race and related revealing questions, such as whether you are biracial, what language you speak at home, or where you were born.
  • Religion: Your religious preferences, whether you attend religious services or what religious holidays you observe.
  • National origin: Your nationality, ancestry, where you or your parents were born, where you grew up, your native language, or citizenship status.
  • Privacy: Unrelated personal information, such as whether you have ever filed bankruptcy, have debts, your current credit rating, political opinion, a history of illegal drug use, or your social media usernames.

What Should I Do if I am Asked an Illegal Interview Question?

During an interview, you aim to demonstrate your experience and qualifications. If you are asked an illegal question during a job interview, it is essential to remain professional in how you address it, such as:

  • Maintaining your composure and avoid reacting emotionally. The interviewer may have asked unintentionally.
  • Consider the question’s context, as it may have been asked appropriately or was poorly phrased, and not necessarily intending to discriminate.
  • Redirect the question by asking how it relates to the job position or shift the conversation back to a job-related topic.
  • Address the inappropriate question with HR after the interview to express your concerns.
  • End the interview or withdraw your candidacy for the position if you are uncomfortable with the questions or the interviewer continues to ask inappropriate questions after you have asserted your rights.

Some interview questions that may seem inappropriate or illegal may not be, depending on the position’s requirements. For instance, a question regarding your physical limitations may not be considered disability discrimination if the position involves vigorous physical activity, such as excessive standing or walking or lifting heavy items repeatedly.

Before the interview, familiarize yourself with the job’s specific requirements and the company’s policies on discrimination to help gauge whether the question is inappropriate or violates company policies.

Understanding your protections under anti-discrimination laws allows you to identify what questions are considered illegal and assert your rights appropriately.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Help Clients Assert Their Rights

If you believe you have experienced discrimination at work, our Philadelphia employment lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. can help. Call 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Lehigh County, and Montgomery County.

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